On September 6th, US European Command officials confirmed the crash and recovery of an US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unnamed aerial vehicle (UAV).
A high-flying RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance UAV crashed into the waters off Spain on June 26th, 2018. As reported by the Drive, the incident was not previously disclosed to the public. According to the outlet, the incident was the second time an RQ-4 was lost in almost a one-year period. Another RQ-4 aircraft crashed into highly remote California wilderness near Mount Whitney on June 21st, 2017. Following the California incident, the US Air Force released a statement, it did not do so after the Spain incident.
Furthermore, in 2012 an RQ-4 assigned to the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program crashed in the Chesapeake Bay near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. In 2011, an Air Force EQ-4B crashed over Afghanistan.
One such aircraft costs $123 million, according to figures from Fiscal Year 2015.
The Drive published a photo, received from unnamed sources, showing debris from the RQ-4 being recovered from the Atlantic. The image of the recovered fuselage showed damage to the engine cowling and shorn metal at the rear of the aircraft.
The outlet, after receiving its unconfirmed information from an anonymous source contacted number of units associated with Global Hawk operations, as well as to those associated with its Navy cousin the MQ-4 Triton. Tyler Rogoway of the Drive received a response from Josh A. Aycock, Chief of the Public Affairs Division from the Air Force Safety Center:
There is an ongoing Safety Investigation Board investigating the crash of an RQ-4 that impacted the water off the coast of Spain on 26 Jun 2018. The Safety Investigation Board is still ongoing. It is Department of Defense & Air Force policy not to discuss the analysis, findings, or recommendations from safety investigations to protect the investigation process.
That is all that is releasable at the moment. If you have additional follow up questions, please let me know.
Josh A. Aycock
Chief, Public Affairs Division
Headquarters, Air Force Safety Center
The only other acknowledgement that the RQ-4 had been lost was a graph published by Air Combat Command’s Combat Edge magazine, which contained no further elaboration.
USNI News cited EUCOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Hontz who said that the crash occurred at around 11:00 o’clock EDT on June 26. The Northrop Grumman-built aircraft was assigned to 348th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. The Global Hawk went down in the Gulf of Cadiz near the U.S. Navy’s base in Rota, Spain.
US Navy and Air Force assets were quickly dispatched to help recover the downed aircraft, most likely including fleet oiler USNS Arctic (T-AOE-8) as well as a KC-135 refueler from the 100th Air Refueling Wing out of Zaragoza Air Base, Spain. The RQ-4 was taken to the Rota station after it was recovered.
The response to Tyler Rogoway’s inquiries to the US European Command was as follows:
Thank you for your patience on this. The below responses to your questions can be attributed to me as the U.S. European Command Spokesperson. For additional questions regarding the aircraft or the mission, please refer to [redacted] at ACC Public Affairs. Thanks!
Q: Like where approximately it went down?
A: An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft crashed off of the coast of Rota, Spain, at approximately 11a.m. EDT, Tuesday, June 26, 2018. No personnel were involved in the incident.
Q: Was there a salvage operation?
A: The Supply-class fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE-8), assisted in the recovery of the downed RQ-4 Global Hawk in the vicinity of the Gulf of Cadiz. Prior to providing assistance, Arctic was conducting routine operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. In addition to the USNS Arctic, a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 operating out of Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, launched on June 26 to aid in the recovery efforts.
Q: Current state of the vehicle?
A: For information about the investigation, I’ll have to refer you to Air Combat Command Public Affairs…
Q: Any details surrounding the events leading up to the crash?
A: For information about the mission or the flight path, I’ll have to refer you to Air Combat Command Public Affairs…
The Global Hawks, along with the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton maritime variant, are the largest UAVs in the U.S. inventory. The Global Hawk has a 131-foot wingspan and is designed to fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet for extended durations with a range of almost 15,000 miles, according to data from the Air Force, cited by USNI News.
The RQ-4 Global Hawks have reportedly been highly effective in the “European Theater,” most notably flying regular high-altitude reconnaissance missions over Eastern Ukraine and the northern Black Sea region as reported by the Drive. They were also active over the Eastern Mediterranean, near the Syrian coast. The semi-autonomous drone has even executed missions over Libya and other locales in the EUCOM and AFRICOM areas of responsibility, including the Baltics. All of these sorties have been flown out of NAS Sigonella, Italy.